Working with Radiation

Radiation sources must be used as described by approved Standard Operating Procedures listed on an active Radiation Use Authorization.

Ordering Radioactive Material

Please follow the steps below:

  1. Log in to the online Radiation Safety Information System (RSIS) and put in a request for the radionuclide you wish to order.

  1. You will receive a Material Request Approval Number via email once your order request has been approved. The Material Request Approval Number for each item ordered must be included in your Bear Buy (or other purchasing method) request under the shipping address.

  1. All radioactive packages must be received at the Hazardous Material Facility on the UC Berkeley campus. Please designate the "Ship To" address as (with your department address as the "Final Destination"):

University of California
Berkeley Hazardous Materials Facility
1 Frank Schlessinger Way Berkeley, CA 94720

RE: RUA #XXXX - Authorization #XXXXX

Please direct any questions regarding orders of radioactive materials to

Disposal of Radioactive Material

Make sure that all waste is properly packaged and labeled for disposal. If you have any questions about proper packaging, please refer to Appendix B in the Radiation Safety Manual.

EH&S picks up waste directly from laboratories or from the CPUs in Koshland Hall, Morgan Hall, Life Science Addition, Li Ka Shing, the Innovative Genomics Institute (IGI), or Stanley Hall.


  1. To dispose of material in a CPU, select "Dispose in CPU." You should bring your waste to the CPU on the same day.
  2. For all other disposals, select "Request EH&S Pickup."
  3. Immediately print out the waste label generated by RSIS.
  4. The waste must be double bagged with the waste label placed between the two bags.

For specific waste inquiries please contact

Performing Radiation Safety Surveys


Radiation survey meters are a great tool to locate contamination in the lab. The proper selection of a meter is important. The following outlines appropriate survey probes and procurement information. All of these probes can be attached to an appropriate ratemeter such as a Ludlum 3, Bicron Surveyor, and Radeye GX.

Geiger-Mueller “pancake” probe (Probe Info)
  • Multi-purpose probe for alphas, betas, and gammas

  • Good geometry for determining contamination

  • Significant over-response at low energies

  • Procurement Examples:  Ludlum 44-9, Bicron PGM

Geiger- Mueller end window probe (Probe Info)
  • Multi-purpose probe for alphas, betas, and gammas

  • Lower efficiency for contamination than “pancake” due to geometry

  • Better gamma response and dose estimates

  • Procurement Examples:  Ludlum 44-7, WBJ GP-200, Fluke Thin-End Window Probe

Scintillation Counters (Probe Info)
  • Probes are specific to radiation type (low energy gammas, x-rays, gammas, betas, etc.)

  • Proper selection and calibration is of the utmost importance

  • Can measure energy for spectrum analysis

  • Procurement Examples:  Ludlum 44-2 & 44-3, Fluke 489-50, Bicron BC-400


NOTE: Please contact Radiation Safety before you purchase a new instrument so that we can confirm that we will be able to calibrate your equipment (or you may be required to send it back to the manufacturer for calibration).

Using your survey meter

  1. Verify that the instrument is in calibration by checking the calibration sticker on the side of your instrument and confirming that the dates reflect a current calibration.
  2. Turn on your meter (as well as the audio) and confirm that the batteries are good. Low batteries will give inaccurate readings.
  3. Verify that the probe is responding to radiation by placing the probe by a source of radioactivity such as a check source or your stock solution and confirming that it responds. If it does not respond, contact Radiation Safety for assistance.

In general, you should avoid wrapping the detector probe with a mylar, parafilm, or plastic as this will eliminate (or at least significantly reduce) the instrument’s response to low energy beta particles.

Hand-held survey meters will not detect tritium (H-3); swipe tests with a Liquid Scintillation Counter are required. Accurate surveying requires you to survey close to an object and to move slowly.

Areas to Survey in a Lab

At a minimum, your survey needs to cover all radioactive work areas, radioactive storage areas, and areas where contamination is a concern (e.g. break rooms, the desks of common radioisotope users, etc.). Be sure to survey different areas each time to ensure you do not miss contamination in the lab. The number of locations should be based on the type and amount of work since the last survey. These areas should include:

  • Floors in front of your work area
  • Benchtops and work surfaces
  • Non-radioactive trash containers (ensure no radioactivity or visible radiation labels)
  • Fume hoods
  • Sinks (no sink disposal of any radioactivity)
  • Fixed equipment (e.g. hybridization ovens, centrifuges, incubators, LSC, etc.)
  • Frequently handled items (e.g. pipettors, glassware, pens, telephones, doorknobs, lab notebooks, keyboards,etc.)
  • Refrigerators and freezers
  • Radioactive waste storage areas
  • Personal protective equipment (e.g. lab coats, safety glasses, reusable gloves, etc.)
  • Any area designated as “clean area”

Perform a Swipe Survey and use a Liquid Scintillation Counter (LSC)

In order to determine if there is any unfixed contamination in the lab, swipe (or wipe) surveys are the best tool. These swipes will then be counted in an appropriate radiation detector, usually a liquid scintillation counter (LSC). Swipe tests are the only reliable method of determining H-3 contamination without special equipment.

Contact Radiation Safety if you need help identifying an LSC for you to use.

Taking Swipes

Be sure to use appropriate media (paper filters, cotton swabs, glass fiber filters, etc.) and adequately cover the laboratory. Each swipe should cover at least 100 cm2, which can be accomplished by using medium pressure and drawing an “S” over a 2’x2’ (60cm x 60cm) square. These swipes should then be segregated to prevent cross-contamination between swipes before counting.

Counting Swipes

Swipes should be loaded into an appropriately sized LSC vial. LSC cocktail (counting fluid) will then be added to the vial and then the vials will be placed into LSC racks and counted. Be sure to use a counting protocol that is programmed to detect the radionuclides being used by your lab. A background sample (a clean swipe in cocktail) should be prepared and run along with your swipes. Contamination is considered to be any swipe sample that is found to have a count rate greater than two times the count rate of the background sample.

Addressing Contamination

All contamination outside of the radioactive work area must be cleaned and resurveyed until the count rate is below two times background. Contamination limits inside radioactive work areas are outlined in the Radiation Safety Manual. Contact Radiation Safety if you are having difficulty with any decontamination efforts or if you have any questions about setting up LSC protocols, counting consumables, or other general questions.

Directions for decontaminating an area can be found under “Emergencies Involving Radioactive Materials” below.

Self-Survey Guidelines

Your Lab's RUA will outline the minimum frequency required for documented surveys, but you are required to perform self-surveys routinely while you work with radioactivity or radiation, as they are the primary tool for detecting contamination and measuring radiation fields.

Self-survey of all rooms involved in the storage or use of radioactive materials is required, including shared rooms such as cold rooms, equipment rooms, dark rooms, etc. For a complete reference of where to survey or swipe in your lab, refer to "Areas to Survey in a Lab".

You may use this self-survey form to document your findings along with a diagram of the laboratory (available from EH&S Radiation Safety Team (RST)) outlining locations of swipes and elevated radiation levels. Swipe surveys should always include a copy of the swipe results counted on a Liquid Scintillation Counter (LSC). Document the issues identified, actions taken, and the resolution of any problems (e.g., contamination location, steps taken to clean-up, a final survey showing no contamination, etc.). If you have any questions, contact the Radiation Safety Team at

NOTE: If you find removable contamination over twice background on a swipe taken outside of a designated radioactive work area or if you find a radiation exposure reading > 2.0 mR/hr, contact the RST for assistance. Removable contamination found outside of radioactive use areas must be cleaned up immediately. Please read Emergencies Involving Radioactive Materials below for further guidance.

Calibration and Repair of your Survey meter

Calibration and repair of instruments can be obtained from:

  1. EH&S, Radiation Safety
    University Hall
    Phone (510) 642-3073, E-mail:
  2. Ludlum Measurements, Inc. 
    501 Oak Street, Sweetwater TX 79556
    Phone (800) 622-0828
  3. Thermo-Fisher Scientific
    Phone (800) 274-4212

UC Berkeley’s radioactive materials license requires each instrument to be calibrated at least once a year and after repair. When our records indicate that you have a meter(s) that is due for calibration, we will contact you to make arrangements to calibrate your instrument(s). Note that some meters will require calibration by an outside vendor. Make sure to also provide EH&S with a copy of the calibration paperwork that you receive from the vendor so that we can update our records.


Call the Radiation Safety Team at (510) 642-3073 or email for information.

Emergencies Involving Radioactive Materials

For a life-threatening emergency or accident, call 911 or (510) 642-3333 from a cell phone.

Notify Environment, Health & Safety (EH&S) as soon as possible in case of area or personnel contamination or excessive exposure to radiation and prior to attempting extensive area decontamination.

Non-life threatening radiation emergency during normal business hours, Call EH&S at (510) 642-3073.

Non-life threatening radiation emergency after normal business hours, Call 911 or (510) 642-6760 from a cell phone.

Emergency Procedure for Radioactive Material Spills

Any contamination on people is the first priority. Remove contaminated clothing and flush contaminated skin with copious amounts of lukewarm water and mild soap. DO NOT abrade the skin. Call EH&S at (510) 642-3073 for immediate assistance.

  • Step out of the spill area and control access to the area.  Inform everyone in the immediate area of the spill and limit traffic near the spill.  Ask everyone to stay close by so they can be checked for contamination before leaving the lab. Call EH&S and discuss the spill with them. EH&S will make a determination regarding the spill, give you instructions, and will tell you how to proceed.

If the radioactive spill is from a volatile material (e.g. I-125) in addition to the above:
  • Immediately evacuate all lab personnel from the room and close the door.

  • Post someone nearby to prevent others from entering the room and call EH&S for help.

  • Do not leave the immediate area until EH&S arrives, performs surveys, and releases you.

Be conservative when you determine the area of the spill. Visual information will be helpful, but rely on survey instruments and swipes to be safe. Be sure to wear double gloves, a lab coat, and appropriate eye protection. Monitor your gloves and shoes frequently for contamination. If you find that significant shoe contamination exists, stop and call EH&S.

Personnel Contamination

  • Remove contaminated clothing immediately and flush the skin with copious amounts of lukewarm water and mild soap.  DO NOT abrade the skin.  

  • Notify EH&S at (510) 642-3073 as soon as possible. Restrict the contaminated individual's movements and stay in the area until EH&S arrives.

  • In case of an injury, call 911 or 510-642-6760 to obtain medical assistance, then notify EH&S immediately. Treat injuries first, without regard to radioactive contamination.


  1. Place absorbent materials at the edges of the spill if it is spreading.

  2. Begin the decontamination process from the edges of the spill working inward.  Use a decontamination solution (or soap and water) and paper towels to decontaminate the area.

  3. Working in small (12" by 12" square) areas you will reduce the spread of contamination.

  4. As you decontaminate the area, use swipes to find out how much contamination there is, where it is, and how effective your efforts are to remove the contamination as you proceed.

  5. Be careful to stay out of the spill, absorb any liquids by placing paper towels on top of the spill.

  6. Carefully place all contaminated papers and materials in a properly labeled radioactive waste bag as you go.

  7. When you think that you have the spill cleaned up, take swipes of the spill area and of surrounding areas such as doorways, adjacent hallways, elevators, and shoes. Keep cleaning until the area is clean (below twice background).

  8. Document the spill findings, your final survey, and any notes that you may need to refer to in the future. Keep your self-surveys and swipe data.

Remember to monitor all persons, equipment, and waste being moved from the spill area. Handle contaminated materials as radioactive waste.

Radiation Producing Machines

  • If suspected exposure of fingers, eyes, or any body part to the primary beam or failure of a shutter or enclosure interlock occurs, call (510) 642-3073.

Loss or Theft

  • Notify EH&S immediately if you suspect the loss or theft of radioactive materials or radiation producing machines. If the event is a theft,  UCPD should be notified as well.

Radiation Resources for Pregnant Individuals

If you are a radiation worker that is pregnant or considering becoming pregnant, additional radiation safety information is available at the links below.  You may also contact Radiation Safety directly at or by telephone at (510) 642-3073 for more information.

Declaration of Pregnancy and Withdrawal of Pregnancy Declaration

Pregnancy and Radiation Handout